Closing Time 3/24: Top 30 Closers Update

Rick Graham ranks baseball's closers for the 2021 season.

We are just eight days away from Opening Day, and, of course, we still have plenty of unresolved closer battles and injuries to deal with as we try and make sense of an ever-changing closer landscape. This season is looking bleaker than usual, with less than 10 closers you can truly count on for consistent save production throughout the year. I touch on the two closer injury situations (Toronto, Texas) in the notes below, but perhaps the biggest change from my February ranks is that James Karinchak is no longer on the list.

The “Nick Wittgren will be closing out games in April” train has been gathering momentum for a while now, and it now seems to be taking off as beat writers are suggesting Wittgren will be the team’s closer. Despite Karinchak (and Emmanuel Clase, Phil Maton, etc.) having prototypical closer stuff, leave it to Terry Francona to go with the grizzled veteran who he can trust as his top 9th inning option. While Wittgren is very vanilla and won’t have the upside of Karinchak, being the closer in Cleveland easily puts him in the top-20 closer discussion.

 

Notes

 

  • Tier 1 is the “You really want one of these guys” tier. With the closer landscape as dysfunctional as ever, it’s highly recommended you grab someone in tier 1, or at least tier 2.
  • Nothing has changed at the top since my initial rankings back in February, and I’m sticking with Edwin Diaz as my top closer option. Diaz has been electric this spring, and has something to prove after two enigmatic seasons with the Mets.
  • Liam Hendriks and Aroldis Chapman represented the only other locked-in closers who won’t be traded and won’t lose their job barring injury.

 

  • Tier 2 would be “the last of the ‘safe’ bets tier”.  There’s some more risk involved in this group as compared to the tier above, but their floor is nowhere near the next tiers.
  • Josh Hader hasn’t exactly done anything this spring to change my mind and I continue to fade him in drafts. The strikeouts will always be there for Hader, but so will the home runs and the trade rumors. While becoming a more traditional closer may limit his short-term upside, it should be beneficial for his long-term outlook.
  • While there hasn’t been any word of a potential injury, it is a tad bit concerning Ryan Pressly hasn’t appeared in a game since March 11th. Dusty Baker insists he is healthy so there’s that, but why is he throwing in sim games and B games then? Anyway, I’m not dropping him yet, as he was looking great before the absence but this is something to keep an eye on.

 

  • Tier 3 is the clear risk/reward tier (upside over “safety”) tier. I placed this tier above the “safety” tier because I personally prefer taking changes on upside at this point in the rankings, but the two tiers are interchangeable. Everyone in this tier is currently in a battle for the closer role this spring and/or could wind up in a committee situation.
  • With Mark Melancon struggling with his command this spring and Drew Pomeranz dealing with a forearm injury, Emilio Pagan has become the frontrunner to open the year as the Padres closer. Pagan is just one year removed from being one of the best closers in baseball and has been great this spring after his rough debut early in March.
  • Despite the team refusing to name a closer following the Kirby Yates injury news, Jordan Romano should be the favorite to open up the season as the Jays closer and needs to be rostered in most formats. Rafael Dolis could get the first crack at saves if the Jays decide to go the older veteran route, but his walk rate (14%) and Romano’s elite stuff should keep him in more of a setup role.

 

  • Tier 4 is the “Yeah, these guys are closers…for now” tier. This tier and tier 3 are interchangeable, depending on what you are looking for, upside or “safety”. These guys will likely be closing on opening day, but have no assurances beyond that.
  • Craig Kimbrel gets a demotion as his issues from the past two seasons continue to plague him this spring. He’s got more hypothetical upside than anyone else in this tier, but could also lose his job before anyone else in this tier. His past two outings this spring have been better, but it’d be nice to see him string together a few productive outings in a row once the regular season starts.
  • Joakim Soria has only appeared in three spring games so far, one of which resulted in four earned runs, but he still is the favorite to open the year as the Diamondbacks closer. My money would still be on someone other than Soria closing out games by August, but for now, Soria is worth rostering for some extra saves help.

 

  • Tier 5, the final tier, but one that actually has some upside, there are just zero guarantees here. These four teams, all unlikely to push for a playoff spot, will likely go with a closer-by-committee approach.
  • Like the rest of this tier basically, Tanner Scott is the best reliever in his team’s bullpen, therefore, I believe he will get a chance to earn the bulk of the save opportunities. The Orioles won’t name a closer following Hunter Harvey‘s injury, and while a committee is less than ideal, Scott should help managers with ratios, Ks, and the occasional save or two each week,
  • After Jose Leclerc was shut down with an elbow injury, there were all sorts of names being thrown around as to who will be the Rangers closer to start the year. Only one has a 30-save season under their belt and that is Ian Kennedy. Kennedy isn’t far removed from 30 saves, with that feat coming in 2019 with the Royals. There are better options in the Rangers system (Joely Rodriguez, Demarcus Evans, Jonathan Hernandez); however, they are all looking at lengthy IL stints to start the year paving the way for Kennedy to get the first crack at saves for the Rangers.

 

 

Change in ranks is compared to last season’s final ranking on 9/22/2020

Rank Pitcher Change
1Edwin DiazT1+3
2Liam Hendriks-1
3Aroldis Chapman-1
4Josh Hader
T2
+3
5Raisel Iglesias+5
6Ryan Pressly-
7Trevor Rosenthal+1
8Kenley Jansen-5
9Brad Hand-4
10Nick Anderson
T3
+3
11Amir Garrett+UR
12Will Smith+UR
13Giovanny Gallegos+11
14Jordan Romano+UR
15Hector Neris-
16Emilio Pagan+UR
17Taylor Rogers-1
18Craig Kimbrel
T4
+UR
19Richard Rodriguez+7
20Matt Barnes-3
21Anthony Bass+UR
22Nick Wittgren+UR
23Greg Holland-9
24Rafael Montero-5
25Daniel Bard-5
26Joakim Soria+UR
27Jake McGee
T5
+UR
28Tanner Scott+UR
29Gregory Soto+UR
30Ian Kennedy+UR

 

Photo by Kiyoshi Mio/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Rick Graham

Rick resides in the Boston area and has experience as a player and coach at the collegiate level. He has been covering relievers for Pitcher List since 2017.

  • Avatar Harold Lutz says:

    Multiple links here go to the wrong player. Also did you mean Taylor Rogers instead of Tyler Rogers? Otherwise I don’t see any Twins closer!

    • Rick Graham Rick Graham says:

      Thanks for the heads up. Yea the same thing happened with Rogers in my first list, not sure what that’s about. Also had a problem with Fairbanks being deleted from the SV+HLD list, so still trying to work out all the 6.0 kinks before the season starts.

  • Avatar Eric Mott says:

    Damn… you feeling Wittgren over Karinkchak?

    • Rick Graham Rick Graham says:

      That seems to be the consensus amongst the Cleveland beat reporters. It makes sense giving Francona’s track record too

      • Avatar Bob says:

        Roster Resource still has JK as the closer. All I can find from the beat writers is that Francona is considering a committee. Do you have INSIDE info? His track record is that he likes to have a “guy”, but it’s usually his best guy (Papelbon, Allen, Hand), and JK is unhittable! 18 k’s in 8 IP!

        • Rick Graham Rick Graham says:

          I have no inside information, this is just an educated guess from listening to those who follow the team closely. Cody Allen was closing out games when they had the best reliever in all of baseball (Andrew Miller) and I’d say Karinchak was better than Hand last season.

  • Avatar Harry says:

    Karinchak?

  • Avatar Don says:

    Nick anderson still on the list? I have Fairbanks, witgren, pagan rostered now I need to drop 2 to place bids on Diekman and Reyes, which 2 would you suggest?

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